Alabama chief justice says First Amendment is only for Christians

The video of Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore's address to the Pastors-for-Life in Mississippi conference last January has gained recent notoriety, thanks to the judge's amazing assertion that only Christianity is entitled to First Amendment protection under US law. The top jurist bases his assertion on some rather dubious history and theology, which Kyle Whitmore carefully debunks. But it seems unlikely that a Chief Justice wouldn't know about this stuff. A fairer assumption is that he simply chooses not to notice it.

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UK bans teaching Creationism as science in schools


(Beginner's Bible Coloring Book!, The Searcher, used with permission)

(Beginner's Bible Coloring Book!, The Searcher, used with permission)

The UK Government has banned the practice of teaching Creationism as science in all UK schools, including the less-regulated, semi-privatised Free Schools and Academies. Previously, all state schools and most Academies and Free Schools were prohibited from teaching Creationism, but existing religious schools were exempted from the rule. Since the new year, the government has closed off these exemptions, and with the latest move, has closed all of them, meaning that no school may teach Creationism any longer. However, state-funded nurseries and lightly inspected private schools are expected to go on teaching Creationism until further changes are made.

The British Humanist Association -- which I joined as a lifetime member -- has led the campaign against the teaching of Creationism in schools, and also campaigns against the Religious Education requirement in English and Welsh curriculum. I believe that RE should be integrated into the social anthropology curriculum and not taught as a standalone subject.

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Stone busts carved from stacked books


Sculptor Long-Bin Chen creates art out of recycled books and magazines; his current show, at Charleston's Halsey, features a series of pieces that appear to be solid sculptures, but which are actually carved stacks of books, painted and surfaced on one side. He has recently completed a set of enormous Buddha heads carved from stacks of phone books. As the Halsey explains, "The Buddha sculptures represent the missing heads of many ancient Buddha figures that have been looted from Asia and sold to Western museums and collectors. Since colonial times, Westerners have taken heads from the Buddha statues in Asia and brought them back to the West. While one finds so many Buddha heads in Western museums and galleries, an equal number of Buddha bodies in Asia are headless. When carved into phone books, Chen's Buddha heads contain the names and numbers of millions of residents."

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Perot Science Museum missing tiny climate exhibit (but there's lots about fracking!)


The $185M Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas has a lot of positive info on the wonders of fracking, but a tiny panel explaining climate change in the original plans never made it into the joint. In fact, none of the exhibits at the Perot mention climate change -- not the display on water, not the display on weather, and certainly not the display on the miracle of shale gas.

The hall where the climate change panel was meant to hang was endowed by American oil baron Trevor Rees-Jones and bears his name. A natural gas exec on the museum's board says that climate is "too complex and fast-changing to tackle in a permanent exhibit." And the Perot is not alone: as the Dallas Morning News points out, science museums all over the USA wrestle with how to present the overwhelming scientific consensus on issues like climate and evolution.

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Atheism remains least-trusted characteristic in American politics


A Pew Study from last month found that atheism remain the most untrusted attribute in American politicians, although the degree of animosity has declined from 63% in 2007 to 53% in 2014.

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Dante in Lego

Romanian Legoist Mihai Marius Mihu's Nine Circles of Hell creations are the perfect companion to the Dante for Fun picture books that retell the Inferno, Paradiso and Purgatorio for children.

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Bosch's 600 year old butt-music from hell


Robbo writes, "My friend, SF author J.M. Frey, posted this curious thing she found where a detail in Hieronymus Bosch's painting 'The Garden of Earthly Delights' features musical notation inscribed on some dude's ass. Of course, someone has taken the time to transcribe these notes and have now presented to the interwebs a piano interpretation of the 600 Year Old Butt Music From Hell of Hieronymous Bosch. Feel free to gavotte along."

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Christianity is the top religion in the US. What's the second-top, in each state?

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Most interesting infographic of the day, via the Washington Post, which also published an even more detailed breakdown by county. Christianity is the largest religion in the US, by a wide margin: more than three-quarters of Americans identify as Christians. Buddhism is second. The data comes from a 2010 census sponsored by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies. It'd be interesting to see a similar mapping with "atheism/agnostic" included as a comparison. The lack of inclusion of His Noodly Goodness (Hail FSM) is a real oversight, obviously. Larger size here.

Kickstarting a multilingual kids' picture book about humanism

The Croatian Center for Civil Courage, a "feminist and free thinking organization," is kickstarting a kids' picture book called Humanism for Children, seeking funds to translate and publish it in English and German (it's already in Bosnian and Croatian). The book consists of "Humanism is for everybody" (an introduction to humanism and scientific ideas) and "How to live a fulfilling life" -- advice on being a "a thoughtful, jovial, rational and cheerful person" without religious stricture. £20 gets you an English copy.

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Friday Freak-Out: "39 Lashes," Jesus Christ Superstar (1973)

From the masterpiece by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice.

Afterparty: neuro-technothriller


Afterparty is a new, excellent science fiction novel by Daryl Gregory, about drugs, God, sanity, morals, and organized crime. Its protagonist, Lyda Rose is a disgraced neuroscientist who once helped develop a drug that rewired its users' brains so that they continuously hallucinated the presence of living, embodied Godhead. Now Lyda is in a mental institution, where she is attempting to win over the therapists who oversee her -- as well as the angelic doctor that manifests only in her mind.

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Hobby Lobby, IUDs, and the facts

The U.S. Supreme Court will decide later this year whether a corporation can have religious beliefs. Maggie Koerth-Baker looks at the science of birth control, and how it might inform the debate.

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White, right-wing terrorist busted...and hardly a peep


Last week, the FBI arrested Robert James Talbot Jr., 38, of Katy, Texas. Talbot was the self-styled head of the American Insurgent Movement, which openly plotted to massacre Moslems at mosques and kill them with automatic weapons, sought to rob armored cars, and recruited followers to sow more mayhem. Talbot is a violent Christian fundamentalist who advertised his intention to murder people wholesale.

Kudos to the FBI for arresting this fellow, but as Death and Taxes point out, where the hell was the national panic that attends every arrest of a jihadi terrorist, no matter how cracked and improbable his plan happened to be? Nowhere to be seen.

Now, if this was a recognition by the press that lone kooks are not an existential threat to the world -- even if they are capable of committing horrible, isolated crimes -- I'd be standing up and cheering. But if Talbot had been a brown-skinned conservative Muslim who'd been arrested after planning to attack Christian churches in America with bombs and machine-guns, I suspect there would have been screaming front-page headlines and round-the-clock intensive CNN coverage for days, not to mention grim, determined reporting on Fox News.

House Science Committee: a parliament of Creationists, Climate Deniers (and dunces)


Writing in Scientific American, Ashutosh Jogalekar bemoans the famously terrible state of the House Committee on Science, a farcical body stuffed with climate deniers and young Earth creationists. At a recent hearing, committee member Randy Weber (R–TX) implied that science couldn't really make claims about things that happened tens of thousands or millions of years ago, because it couldn't directly observe them. It's a terrifying position for a legislator who sits in a position of power over national science policy to hold.

Jogalekar claims the committee is turning into a national embarrassment, but as Chris Baker points out, any notion of the committee changing over time is an Evolutionist lie from Satan, because the committee are exactly as God created them at the beginning of time, 6,321 years ago.

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Man swept to sea in beach baptism

The search for a 43-year old man, swept out to sea during a baptism on a south California beach, was called off this weekend: "A wave pulled three people into the ocean about 10 a.m. off Rancho Guadalupe Dunes Preserve and only two managed to return to shore on their own." [AP]